On today’s installment of Music City Roots, it’s another morning of great tunes as we listen to The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, The Cleverlys, Trace Bundy, Ernie Hendrickson, and Sarah Potenza & The Tall Boys. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
From the pastoral hills, hollers, shopping malls and interstate highways of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, home of Bill Monroe, Bashful Brother Oswald, Stringbean, Grandpa Jones, Keith Whitley and some living country music performers, comes the most entertaining “blast from the past” since Lester Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys. They’re the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band — five guys and a scrubboard, with roots like wisdom teeth.
The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band have shamelessly stolen a feature of the old Roy Acuff Show — a bit known as “Pap & the Jug Band”. There’s only so many graveyard numbers or raunchy love songs that even the most rabid country audience can sit through without some kind of relief. This frolicking fivesome brightens up the stage with rib-tickling old time tunes. Even better, they have an utter lack of self-consciousness (and some might say any sense of decorum). The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band not only know the music, they wear the costumes, tell corny jokes and even do slapstick gags that throw a cable-tv-numbed audience into hysterics. Grown women have lost control of internal organs when the Jug Band entertains … tears a’ runnin’ down both legs!!
“Lonesome” Lester Armistead is a shy and retiring retired printer now raising grandchildren on his farm in the Luton‘s District of middle Tennessee. He rarely speaks above a whisper until he uncorks his jug, gets a whiff of greasepaint and footlights, and releases his Force Five tenor voice in song. Lester and his late brother Jack performed extensively in Tennessee’s Davidson County environs as a country duet years ago. They grew up around the Acuff’s Smoky Mt. Boys, as their dad co-owned a bait store with Acuff’s fiddler Howdy Forrester. Lester learned to sing from Bashful Brother Oswald — on this all music scholars agree. When Lester sings, Oswald lives. Lester blows a jug that Os played on the Opry as long ago as 1939. Lester also picks a mean banjo. Mostly, Lester likes to laugh. When Marty Stuart asks, “Lester, how’s your jug?”, the invariable answer is ” ’bout half…”.
As Roy Rogers was to the Sons of the Pioneers, so Leroy Troy – “The Tennessee Slicker” is to the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Leroy has the “star power”, having performed his astounding old time banjo act since the 1980’s at the Knoxville World’s Fair, in the cast of “Hee Haw”, on many recordings, on the high seas, at concerts and festivals all over this country and lately even in Ireland. He’s a past Champion and Grand Marshal from Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro Tennessee. Leroy gives all credit to old time Opry stars the Bailes Brothers, who taught him show business. Leroy sings the lead on old tunes like Charmin’ Betsy, and besides banjo he also plays an elaborately outfitted scrubboard, after the fashion of long-ago Opry star Robert Lunn who played the scrubboard in Acuff’s show. Leroy has the Three T’s, tone, taste and timing. Not every wannabee knows the proper time to put in the duck call vs. the bicycle bell. Leroy’s grin and eyes are hypnotic – he connects with an audience. Just try to look away. Actually, don’t do that, he’ll point you out to the rest of the audience and ask what‘s wrong with you.
Bass fiddle man David “Ferg” Ferguson is the world-weary member of the Jug Band. He’s seen it all, three times, and you can read it in the lines on his unkindly old face. He plays a mean bass fiddle and sings powerful country songs in his deep baritone. He’s spent much of his life as an engineer in Nashville recording studio helping to capture some of the greatest country music ever cut. It’s this experience that leads Ferg to mutter sarcastic comments constantly in the background while the rest of the boys are trying to entertain. There’s no end to his talent, and some wonder if there is any beginning. Warnings: Do not try to make a picture of Ferg kissing your baby, don’t wear your best “going out” clothes around him when he’s drinking, don’t introduce yourself as a member of any law enforcement organization, and don’t try to impress your date by introducing her to Ferg. It’s OK to lend Ferg your “back-up” guitar, but not your “good one”.
The tall, handsome young man providing most of the actual music with his fiddle is the sophisticated (he was born in Pennsylvania) Dan Kelly. Even if you can’t recognize a fiddle, or real music, you can tell Dan by his snazzy clothes — he doesn‘t have enough seniority in the band yet to earn his suit of overalls, and Liberty don‘t make ‘em in a size 40-Suave anyway. As a mere stripling youth, Dan won hundreds of fiddle contests and was a six-state champion — he even won the Canadian National Open championship at age 12! Which may say a lot about the quality of Canada’s fiddlers. In 1983 Dan took home the big prize when he won the coveted Grand Masters Fiddle championship in Nashville against REAL competition. After fiddler Big Howdy Forrester’s passing, Roy Acuff hired young Dan to be the Smoky Mt. Boys’ fiddler, and Dan worked with The King of Country Music until his death in 1992. Dan can really play those beautiful and tricky Howdy Forrester pieces! Now Dan is a real polite fellow, sort of the “anti-Ferg”, but he WILL tell you some choice stories about the shenanigans in the old Smoky Mt. Boys!! Since Acuff’s passing, Dan has fiddled his way through a number of top country bands including those of Pam Tillis, Steve Wariner, James Bonamy, Faith Hill, Jessica Simpson and SheDaisy. Poor guy, can’t hold a job. Since 2002 he’s been featured on fiddle and mandolin with Alan Jackson’s band The Strayhorns. Dan hopes to finally break into the “big time” with the Jug Band.
If the Jug Band can be said to have a brain, that would be guitar man and booking agent Mike Armistead, Lester’s son and heir. Mike shares lead singing duties with Leroy, sings harmony in the trios, books the band, engages sidemen to play Dobro ™ or whatever, runs the mercantile empire of their recordings, hoss trades in knives, dogs and guitars, and is the Jug Band’s tenuous contact with the twenty-first century. Like his dad, Mike has a taste for strong tenor singing and loves the repertoire of Bashful Brother Oswald and Ira Louvin. He runs his own record label out of a spider hole at the far end of Dickerson Road in Goodlettsville Tennessee. Mike is the wheeler-dealer of the outfit, with contacts throughout the entertainment bidness. He’s a graduate of the very first International Bluegrass Music Association Leadership School, if you‘re a student of “faint praise”. He also serves the citizenry of Nashville with the Fire Dept. While Lester and Leroy are the obvious cut-ups on stage, Mike and Ferg are the two schemers ready to bring anything into the show that will entertain. Mike and Ferg can smell any kind of entertainment that makes money.
The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band has a CD “Barnyard Frolic”, and they’ve had a video on CMT and GAC cable tv. They can be heard on the sound track of Faye Dunaway’s movie “Yellowbird”. They provided the entertainment for the society wedding of Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie a little while ago — you see how well that turned out. They played a New Year’s Eve at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and nearly brought the house down. They perform concerts all over the south, for bluegrass festivals as far away as Bean Blossom, Indiana and even the State of Maine, and at the famous Carter Family Fold in Hiltons Virginia. Tours of Europe and the Far East are in the works. They’ll appear soon at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (our nation’s capitol). They’ve been on the Grand Ole Opry stage over a dozen times, and in spite of their wild antics, they get invited back!
Hot picking, powerful harmony singing and riotous hijinks that will perk you up between the “hot young country” acts — that’s the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, and thank God for them.
Our family comes from the remote part of the Ozark Mountains, near Cane Spur, Arkansas. We spent our days working on the family farm mostly raising our own food and growing dad’s famous pipe tobacco. I guess he grew the best pipe tobacco around. People came from as far as Big Flat to get it. We worked hard but we had fun. In the evening we played and sang. On weekends we had pickens’. There was always a big crowd around. The Cleverly Trio is our family band. It was founded by dad and his three brothers, Turk, Tink and Bunyon. The whole family at one time or another has played in the band. Since 2005 my brother Digger has taken over the band. The current members of the trio are Digger, our brothers Miles and Vernon Dean, my boy Harvey D and our cousin Otto.
Digger is the oldest boy born in 19 and 60 in Star Gap, Arkansas. Digger worked and played music with the family until 19 and 74. At the young age of 14 he got his first outside gig as the guitar tech for Leaf Garrett. He was exposed to a lot as a young boy, even more when he became the flute tech for Jethro Tull. In the 80’s he toured with “The Rickets” and recorded with such artist as Avery Noonan and produced his Gypsy Wagon album. He wrote “Dry Hunch” the top 100 hit for the group Barn Door. It zoomed up the charts all the way to #93. In the late 1990’s he moved back to the family homestead on Cleverly Mountain. He founded Stabbin’ Cabin records and signed The Cleverly Trio to a multi-album deal.
Miles was born in 19 and 64 in Canes Spur, Arkansas. It was a Tuesday. He was born blind without sight. He could hear like a bat though. As a boy he listened over dad’s pipe tobacco crop. He could hear someone slippin’ from a mile away. His first bass was a washtub. When Uncle Turk passed on he left his bass to Miles. That changed his life and at 20 he went to Berkley, a school out east. From there he went to New Orleans, Chicago and Memphis. His bass guitar has taken him from one end of the world to the next and then back to Cleverly Mountain. Being blind hasn’t slowed him down at all. He cooks, cleans, he is the road manager of the Trio and drives the bus on straight stretches. His hobbies are poetry, skeet shootin’, and sword fightin’.
Vernon Dean “VD” was born in 19 and 65 in Roastin’ Ear, Arkansas. Aside from getting into dad’s pipe tobacco he never did much on the farm. It was always music with him. He started playin’ banjo before he could even pick it up. In 19 and 81, while campin’ on the Buffalo River he ran into a hippy clan named the Rainbow family. The whole bunch was naked and sangin’. They bought a bundle of dad’s pipe tobacco. When the Rainbow family left out, VD left out with them. We didn’t hear much from him until a few years ago when he moved back to Stone County with his wife T. Fairy whom he met at a bluegrass festival out west named Burning Man and their son J. Zone.
Otto Cleverly is our Uncle Bunyon’s boy, our cousin. Born in 19 and 68 in Fifty-Six, Arkansas, he helped run his daddy’s barbeque stand Bunyan’s Meat. When Uncle Bunyon passed on he left the stand to Otto. “Otto’s Meat” was as big as his daddy’s. People came from miles around just to get a piece of Otto’s Meat. You know, you cain’t beat Otto’s meat. Like us he grew up playin’. He did give it up for a while when he moved to Alaska, got a job on a boat and caught the crabs. Now he’s back home, smokin’ meat and playin’ fiddle and mandolin with the Trio.
Harvey D Cleverly was born a twin of two in 19 and 80 in Pumpkin Center, Arkansas. He was always beatin’ on something. His cousin Digger Jr. Jr. gave him his first drum, but he played everything. When someone sat somethin’ down in front of him, a guitar, mandolin, caliape he would pick it up and be playin’ it before you knew it. He is a good boy, he is single, 150 pounds, 5’6” a speed reader and a quick licker. He bit his tongue off in a donkey basketball game but thanks to the donations we received at Cleverly Fest we were able to get his bionic tongue. This is his first year with the Trio. He is so proud to be playin’ music with his uncle and mentor, Digger Cleverly, Sr.
Born in 19 and 59 in Painters Bluff, Arkansas I am Vera Mae Paradine Cleverly. I am the oldest girl and sister to Digger, Miles and VD. And mother to Harvey D and his twin brother Harvey C. They are genital not identical, which means they don’t look alike. I met the boys’ daddy at Gunner Pool in 19 and 79. Him and his family was camped up the creek from us. For me it was love at first sight. By the end of the weekend, I told him I wanted to marry him. That’s when he told me he was getting shipped off to Vietnam next day. I never saw him again. Nine months later the boys was born and I named them after their dear father Harvey. I am the media technician for the Cleverly Trio.
The Cleverly Trio has an annual festival up on Cleverly Mountain every spring. It brings people from all over the world, some as far as Tupelo, Mississippi. The festival has gained such attention, that for me as the media technician, I have had a hard time keeping up with all the requests for the Trio to perform.
Some recent highlights have included a stop at the Lower End VFW and then onto the popular Midget Festival in Oztown West Virginia. You should see all them Midgets! They have the Dwarf Circus, an all Midget Rodeo, and Extreme Midget Wraslin. That’s where my nephew, Digger Jr.Jr., met his soul mate Tiny Tina. She’s a Midget Tina Turner Impersonator. She looks just like Tina Turner ‘sept she’s….a midget.
Keep your eyes and ears open, ‘cause the Cleverly Trio might be performing in a town near you. Soon!
Trace Bundy must be seen, not just heard. His music is poetry in motion, using harmonics, looping, multiple capos, and his unique banter and stage presence to deliver an unforgettable live concert experience. Listening to his intricate arrangements is one thing, but seeing the fan-dubbed “Acoustic Ninja” play live confounds even the most accomplished music lovers as to how one person can do all that with just two hands and ten fingers.
Trace has independently sold over 85,000 albums on his record label, Honest Ninja Music, and regularly sells-out shows with standing ovations at venues across the USA and around the world, in 23 countries and counting. Video clips circulate virally at astonishing speed, with over 29,000,000 YouTube views to date.
Trace was named “Most Promising New Talent” of 2008 by Acoustic Guitar Magazine, as well as winning third place in the magazine’s “Best Fingerstyle Guitarist” category the same year. Last summer, he performed at Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre in front of a crowd of over 7,000 people, as part of The World’s Largest Music Lesson. Over the past couple of years, Trace has shared the stage with Brandi Carlile, Olivia Newton-John, Neko Case, Judy Collins, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Phil Keaggy, David Wilcox, David Knopfler (Dire Straits), Bill Nershi (String Cheese), Laurence Juber (Paul McCartney & Wings), Chris Hillman (the Byrds), Stanley Jordan, and MOFRO, among others.
Dave Kirby from the Boulder Weekly says “Possessing a staggering acoustic technique, on both right and left sides, Bundy has made his reputation as a next generation solo guitarist of serious repute.”
Audiocast Magazine from Austin, TX agrees: “Bundy’s live show is without a doubt an event that needs to be witnessed rather than told about. With such a jaw-dropping performance, Bundy’s live concert is a slap in the face that would leave a palm print on the memory of everyone in the audience.”
Take a minute to check him out and you’ll agree that Trace Bundy must be seen, not just heard.
The singing and songwriting guitarist Ernie Hendrickson just has that way with language. It’s a perspective that allows his hand to scribe his unique perception of the world, one of tragedy and optimism juxtaposed. Born in Cuba City, Wisconsin, he is a true raconteur writing for the rest of the socially conscious and open-hearted with his own blend of classic American music underneath his poised tenor voice. Hendrickson’s new album, One For The Dreamers due for release on September 24th 2013, is a straight-forward picture frame around his soul, swimming in his deep well of music.
The venue to record the album was Lamplight Studio near Nashville’s neighboring Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, the creative home to Chad Cromwell who took the reigns as producer as well as drummer on One For The Dreamers, and who is renowned for his drum work with Neil Young and Mark Knopfler. To establish the band on the album, Cromwell enlisted a favorite musician and colleague, Kevin “Swine” Grantt, on bass (Willie Nelson) and featured the guitar playing of only Hendrickson – a conscious decision to shine a light on his distinctive style. A few very special guests were invited to perform on select tracks including Reese Wynans (Stevie Ray Vaughan – piano), Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson-harmonica), Pete Wasner (Vince Gill – keyboards) and Lera Lynn (vocals).
Today, Hendrickson calls Palos Park, IL his home, one that is close to the vibrant music scene of Chicago but far enough away where he feels most balanced without the glow or bellow of the big city. The road became his compadre and confidant after his 2010 release Walking With Angels, one produced and guitar-driven by the Grammy-winner, Bo Ramsey. The outcome was airplay across the continent to all 50 states, including weeks in the Top 5 at WSM 650 in Nashville, praise on several Albums of the Year lists, and further awakening to his potential as a performer.
One For The Dreamers is not only a song or a title, but a vehicle to traverse the grounds of all walks of life. Ernie Hendrickson draws inspiration from musical heroes such as Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, and Jerry Garcia but also from you and me: those he meets after his shows, who he reads about in the paper, whose names are bound on his bookshelf. But above all, Hendrickson realizes that this is all just one unfinished song.
Fans can preview a single from the new album here: “I Need You” (ft. Lera Lynn)
In 2008, Sarah Potenza & The Tall Boys released their debut album, “Shiny & New”, a powerful collection of original songs that drew attention from venues and festival producers nationwide. Within that year, the band was performing at festivals and sharing bills with acts like Joss Stone, Bonnie Raitt and the legendary Stevie Wonder. In 2010, the group released its second full-length album, “A Lifetime Worth of Sin”. A collection of Americana music, derived from blues, bluegrass, and alternative-country, all songs were written and produced by Sarah and the band, with the exception of one cover of Lucinda Williams. This CD features a talented list of notable guest musicians from such groups as The Hen House Prowlers, The Hoyle Brothers, and The Congregation. To capture a warmer and more authentic sound, the entire album was recorded on two inch analogue tape with a Studer track tape machine at Strobe Recording Studio in Humbolt Park, Chicago.
Since the release of “A Lifetime Worth of Sin”, the album has reached #17 on the Freeform American Roots Radio Charts. Sarah & The Tall Boys have been touring nationally, playing an average of over 200 shows a year. The group has performed at legendary venues such as The Continental Club, Rodeo Bar, Knuckleheads, Chickie Wah Wah, Zoo Bar, and the Hideout. Nate Dow, of the Boston Herald, remarks, “It has been said that Lucinda Williams can blow the chrome off her streamline trailer. If that’s true, Potenza can blow the trailer right out of the lot.”
Sarah Potenza & The Tall Boys have played for inmates at both the Cook Country Department of Corrections and the Dwight Women’s Correctional Facility. Last summer the group was invited to perform on the main stage at the annual Rhythm & Roots Festival at Ninnigret Park in Charlestown, RI on Labor Day Weekend with world-renowned musicians Steve Earle, Delbert McClinton, and Richard Thompson. The group was a huge hit with record high album sales for this festival. This year Sarah Potenza & the Tall Boys were invited back to the Rhythm & Roots festival, Grey Fox Festival and earned a spot performing at Strawberry Music Festival in California with Allison Kruse and Robert Earl Keen. They are the only band to ever perform all 4 stages at the Strawberry festival.
Sarah Potenza & the Tall Boys have shared bills with Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert Mclinton, Steve Earle, Richard Thompson, Marcia Ball, Raul Malo, 7 Walkers, Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Alejandro Escovedo, Whitey Morgan & the 78′s, Junior Brown, David Alvin, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Reckless Kelly, Tab Benoit, Susan Cowsill, Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, and Robert Earl Keen, Joan Osborne, Hugh Laurie and the Copper Bottom Band, David Bromberg Big Band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Donna the Buffalo, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Hot Rize, Del McCoury Band, Davis Grisman, Infamous String Dusters, Punch Brothers, SteelDrivers, Dale Watson, and many, many more.